Last Saturday, three mad third-years eager for one last adventure before Finals embarked on Oxford’s charity hitchhike, Jailbreak. Team goHaRDgohome, comprising Hannah, Rachael and Dan (note the appropriate capitals), had set our hearts on securing an international flight to make the most of our sponsorship money. We had spent the weeks running up to the event phoning and emailing every airfield in the UK, in the hope that a private jet or helicopter would have spare seats to offer us. When it came to our destination, we were less picky than Harry Styles in a retirement home. Sadly, by the time Jailbreak began, we had nothing to show for all our efforts except a lot of newly acquired knowledge of the aviation industry.
The night before Jailbreak began we discovered that everything in Poundland costs a pound, and proceeded to buy half the shop. Just in case. Dan also learnt, to his detriment, that if you don’t come on the clothes shopping trip you will end up dressed like a pornstar for gay fishermen. Women’s tight mustard-coloured skinny jeans with a faux snakeskin belt, along with Primark’s finest yellow rain mac, really brought out the camp in him.
On Saturday morning we set off with unbounded optimism, in the hope that we could do our 50 or so generous sponsors proud. With only Dan’s local knowledge and a rucksack full of cereal bars, we blagged our way onto the Park and Ride bus heading for a busy garage on the M40. Our dubious traffic light costumes soon attracted the attention of a lovely couple, Bronwen and Jim, and their son Noah. Although Dan insulted their “nondescript” car, they happily drove us into London. We particularly enjoyed overtaking our Univ rivals who were on the Oxford Tube.
Despite knowing that it was a longer shot than Paul from S Club 7’s solo career in heavy rock, we were determined to get on a flight or die trying. The lovely Pradeep took us to Heathrow Airport where, on the shuttle bus between the terminals, we surreally found ourselves sitting next to former Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles.
Being avid fans of Moyles’ bombastic breakfast banter, we left Dan to go in for the kill with the classic opening chat-up line, “Excuse me, do I know you from somewhere?” Chris Moyles seemed ashamed of the fact that he was Chris Moyles and decided to assume a pseudonym that even he didn’t seem convinced by. We explained our mission and Dan plucked up the courage to ask him to give us a shout-out on Twitter. However, the only tweeting Moyles had the time for that morning was to complain that he “used to be somebody” but BA had bumped him down from ‘silver’ to ‘blue’ membership. Feeling sympathetic, we briefly considered redirecting our charitable efforts towards helping him regain his clearly fading celebrity status, but decided that Oxfam was a more worthy cause.
We explained our mission to staff at BA but, failing to secure flights, we decided to lurk around the BA first class lounge, in the hope that someone would offer us assistance. This strategy paid off. We met a mysterious Canadian man who resembled Sherlock Holmes, and explained our cause to him. “I’m not sure about you,” he told Hannah. “You’ve got an honest face,” he told Rachael. “And I’ve shared a cell with you!” he told Dan. To our disbelief, he turned out to be a generous philanthropist, carrying a bagful of cash. Keen to help us generate lots of money for charity, he gave us £80 and wished us luck. At this point however, the BA management requested that we move away from the first class lounge to the ‘poor end’ of the Terminal, where we managed to raise a couple of quid, before we were ejected from Heathrow altogether.
Here, Fortune intervened again. As we were retreating, Rachael ran into our mysterious benefactor once more. Although he insisted he could not tell us his name or profession, he reached into his Mary Poppins bag of seemingly infinite assorted currencies, and gave us yet another wodge of cash, which was all he seemed to be travelling with. His only stipulation was that we “give back” in later life, and he disappeared with the fond words, “Tell your friend Yellow-legs that he’s ugly, and his mum dresses him weird.”
Aware that we now had enough cash for all three of us to depart the country, the whistle-stop tour of London’s major airports continued. We hitchhiked to Gatwick, in search of low prices, and finally booked flights to Budapest from Luton. It was a great relief, upon arrival there, to discover that the elusive ‘W!zz’ airline, with whom we had booked tickets, was indeed real. We boarded the flight in euphoria. Having gone HaRD by the end of the first day, we decided we would go for the RAG prize for the team that could get the furthest distance from Oxford and back in 36 hours.
As we skipped through customs in Budapest we realised we had arrived on the last flight of the day and if we wanted to get out of the airport, it was now or never. While most of our fellow travellers marched past our pathetic “heading West” signs, one glorious woman turned back and asked us what we were doing. She offered us a ride in her taxi to the city centre but begged us not to travel through the night in a country where most people didn’t understand the words “hitchhike” or “charity” – even in their own language. After we turned down a bed in her spare room, she gave us the name of a big petrol station just out of town, and dropped us “crazy English” off with a worried cry of “be careful!”
We then had one of many “if-my-Dad-could-see-me-now” moments as we stood at one in the morning, in the snow, on the side of the road in downtown Pest, waving our Univ Library whiteboards as cars hurtled by and drunken strangers heckled us in broken English. As desperation set in, Dan used his Brit-abroad pigeon-English to explain our cause to an unsuspecting local woman waiting for a tram. We went with her on a tram over the Danube, and copied street names off her iPhone to get a sense of where on earth we were.
A couple of caffeine pills later, we were loving life in Western Buda. We walked for an hour or so through the deserted streets, noting that in Buda, much like in space, no one can hear you scream. We can only hope that the neighbourhood was also deaf to the show tunes we shrieked as we trekked through the night. We finally made it to the petrol station. By this stage, the sad hilarity of our predicament had hit us. It was now 4th week of Hilary of our final year, and we were stranded on a snowy night just outside of Budapest, with no coats, money, or grasp of the Hungarian language.
After calming our nerves with a pot of semi-raw noodles, we spent the duration of the night harassing every unfortunate soul who stopped at the petrol station. When daylight broke we were asked to move on, and spent an increasingly desperate hour waving on the hard shoulder. Things got rather hair-raising at one point when a Hungarian man in his rust-bucket performed an emergency stop, screamed “girls!” and flung open all his doors, gesturing for us to get in despite refusing to tell us where he was going. After this narrow escape, we finally collapsed at the feet of a German-speaking couple back at the petrol station, who agreed to take us to Vienna.
Determined to squeeze some authentic cultural experience out of our whistle-stop tour once there, we did what every self-respecting British tourist does in a UNESCO World Heritage Site: we headed to McDonalds. Some blagging more outrageous than last term’s shock relocation of the HFL to the Rad Cam then saw us following the Danube for the rest of the day, through Austria, to Germany. We owe thanks to the many interesting and generous people who helped us on our way. (Big shout out to our homies on the E60 heading West.)
For the final hitch of the journey, our ultimate guardian angel emerged from the snowy night and agreed to drive us towards Frankfurt. Rudi, a raging socialist who assured us repeatedly that “Angela Merkel is a CREE-minal,” dropped us at a train station near Frankfurt, with three bananas, a load of useless travel advice, and the coat off his back.
Exhausted but exhilarated, we had hitchhiked nearly 650 miles in under 14 hours, from Budapest to Bensheim-Auerbach. And in total we had travelled 1623 miles, raising over £1100 for our fantastic charities. Throughout the trip, we had been entirely reliant on the kindness and generosity of strangers, and though deprived of sleep for 48 hours, we honestly came home with a renewed sense of faith in humanity.
Whilst we didn’t get to see much of the countries we passed through, we met countless open and warm-hearted individuals, all willing to go the extra mile.
All money raised is going to Oxfam and RAG’s four local charities: Crisis Skylight, the Against Malaria foundation, Jacari and Helen and Douglas House. If anyone is interested in donating please go to www.raise2give.com/oxford-jailbreak-2013/dannytee